Category Archives: publishing

I am not a radical, but I am boycotting Elsevier

I’ve signed the Elsevier boycott declaration at the costofknowledge site inspired by Tim Gowers’ blog post on the many problems with Elsevier’s behavior.

I am not a publishing reform radical. I value the traditional model of subscription journal publishing and have invested time and effort in making peer review work.* I suspect that lots of people in similar positions are among the majority of mathematicians who have not signed the boycott declaration yet.

So, why do I think we should boycott Elsevier?

The mathematical scholarly community operates under a strong social compact — this is one reason so many of us do so much for free. With very rare exceptions, mathematicians hold themselves to a higher standard than the minimal criterion of what they can get away with. So should the publishers we deal with. Scholarly society and university press publishers, for the most part, do. Springer used to but is in transition. Elsevier does not. Elsevier has demonstrated again and again that it will cross the boundaries of acceptable behavior on pricing, on editorial integrity, on legislative lobbying.

None of what Elsevier does is illegal. There is no law against running a journal as Chaos, Solitons and Fractals was run. There is no law against political donations to elected officials who bring forward advantageous legislation. There is, apparently, no law against bundling and ruthless pricing that produces a profit margin in line with what monopolies achieve.

There is, however, social sanction — if we’ll use it. I won’t deal with Elsevier as if it’s part of the mathematical community when it shows little commitment to the standards of behavior that membership implies.

*I was co-editor of Proceedings of the LMS from 2003 to 2008, and am currently a managing editor of Compositio Mathematica.

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Turing’s offprints

The (mathematical) headline today is that Turing’s papers have been saved for the British nation. I was puzzled when the papers first came up for sale in November 2010, because upon a bit of investigation it turned out that what was being sold were offprints. I realize that Turing is personally more interesting than most mathematicians, and that there’s been a vast expansion of the “collectables” market, but are people really collecting offprints of mathematical papers now?

Apparently, yes, and they have been for a while. The Scientist wrote about offprints and other scientific collectables in 1996. An offprint of Claude Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” was auctioned at Christie’s NY in 2005 for $9000.

So, if tastes ever turn to interwar algebraic geometry, I’m sitting on a gold mine.

When I came to Cambridge in 1999, I was put into Tim Gowers’ old office (this was when we were still in the converted CUP warehouse in Mill Lane). Tim apologized for the lack of storage space. The cupboards were full of J.A. Todd‘s offprint collection, and he hadn’t had the heart to throw it away.

The collection was an impressive sight — organized alphabetically in special document boxes in elegant, faded colors. I didn’t have any particular need for storage, so I left it alone. When, a year later, I had to pack up to move to the CMS, I found that I too couldn’t bear to throw it out. So I duly packed the collection for carriage to Pavilion B of the CMS, and then packed it again when I moved to the geometry pod (Pavilion E). It’s now arrayed across many feet of shelf space in my office.

I can’t say that I use it. Several years ago, out of curiosity about my predecessors in Cambridge geometry, I extracted a paper by Du Val and I could not make heads or tails of it. It was an astounding reminder of what a difference Weil and Serre and Grothendieck made to algebraic geometry. Igor Dolgachev is only person I know who really understands the old language.

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Poor old Crelle!

Douglas Arnold and Kristine Fowler have done a spectacular piece of reporting in “Nefarious Numbers” <arXiv:1010.0278v1 [math.HO]>, about the manipulation of impact factors. The central example is the International Journal of Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation (IJNSNS). After reading Arnold and Fowler’s article, I was curious about what else the publisher of the journal, Freund Publishing House, might be up to. As usual with Google, I got a surprise: De Gruyter, publisher of Crelle’s Journal, has bought IJNSNS along with about 20 other journals from Freund. I suppose De Gruyter gets what it deserves, since it seems to have bought an impact factor rather than an intellectual enterprise, but it’s sad to see Crelle in this kind of company.

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